A boy comes of age in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. His father gives him a piece of advice: “Nothing is more tragic than a wasted talent.” A street-corner gangster gives him another piece of advice: “Nobody really cares.” These pieces of advice seem contradictory, but the boy finds that they make a nice fit.
The kid, whose name is Calogero but who is called C, idolizes Sonny. He likes the way Sonny exercises a quiet authority, and talks with his hands, and dresses well. When C is 17, he goes to work for Sonny, against his father’s wishes. And in the year when most of the film is set, he learns lessons that he will use all of his life.
“A Bronx Tale” was written for the stage by Palminteri, who plays Sonny with a calm grace in the film, but was Calogero in real life. There have been a lot of movies about neighborhood Mafiosos (Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” was the best), but this movie isn’t like the others. It doesn’t tell some dumb story about how the bus driver and the mobster have to shoot each other, or about how C is the hostage in a tug of war. It’s about two men with some experience of life, who love this kid and want to help him out.
Lorenzo, the bus driver, gives sound advice: “You want to see a real hero? Look at a guy who gets up in the morning and goes off to work and supports his family. That’s heroism.” But Sonny gives sound advice, too. One of the things he tells C is that you cannot live your life on the basis of what other people think you should do, because when the chips are down, nobody really cares. You’re giving them a power they don’t really have. That sounds like deep thinking for a guy who hangs on the corner and runs a numbers racket, but Son
ny, as played by Palminteri, is a complex, lonely character, who might have been a priest or a philosopher had not life called him to the vocation of neighborhood boss.
Nine year-old Calogero (Francis Capra) is the streetwise son of Lorenzo Anello (Robert De Niro), a bus driver who takes pride in his work ethic and expects to instill the same values in his son. Calagero, however, is in awe of the local mob boss, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri), and when Calogero keeps his mouth shut after witnessing Sonny do a hit, the boy is taken under Sonny’s wing and shown the ways of the wiseguys.
Lorenzo cannot keep his son away from the influence of Sonny, much as he tries, and a battle of wills ensues, pulling Calogero in both directions until he decides to settle the matter himself by seeing Sonny on the sly and behaving the best he can with his family. As he reaches his teen years, Calogero (now played by Lillo Brancato who looks so much like De Niro it’s downright spooky) finds that Sonny has become a true friend and that his education is twofold – both from school and from the streets.
A young Italian American named Calogero (played by Lillo Brancato and Francis Capra), grows up in the Bronx, torn between the quiet honor of his father (Robert De Niro), and the authoritative aura of a neighborhood Mafia boss, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri). Both men care about the boy, but, against his father’s wishes, Calogero (nicknamed “C”) goes to work for Sonny. Calogero ends up participating in activities he wants no part of, but cannot refuse due to peer pressure. He falls for a black girl named Jane (Taral Hicks), during a period when racism against blacks is intense and violent, but he must find his own way in life.